I approached my Jetta in the small Credit Union parking lot after using the ATM. My daughter and her best friend were chasing each other around the car, laughing.
“Get in the car.” I said. They kept running around, playing their own version of tag.
“Get into car or I will have to hurt you.” I said mockingly, knowing they understood I was playing.
“Don’t hurt your child.”
Startled, I turned to look at a woman standing at a nearby car. I had not seen her. My back tightened and I couldn’t form any words. The girls stopped too. As if under a microscope, I felt myself being examined. Forcing a smile, I said: “I was just kidding.” Who was she to decide what my intent was? On the one hand I get it – taken out of context it could sound menacing. It reminded me of how little we really know about what any of us does or why. In this case it became a funny story that my daughter still loves to repeat. In reflecting on this incident, I remembered two moments when I was that woman, except the stakes were real.
I was at Magic Mountain with my family and had gone to the bathroom. As I was at the sink washing my hands, I heard a woman shouting at her child, who was cowering in a corner. The tone and aggressive posture frightened me and I could only imagine its impact on her daughter. The walls of the restroom reverberated with her voice. I approached and stood by her, unclear on how to engage her or what I would do if she kept yelling or began to hit her daughter. I wanted to be close, to have her feel my presence and know she was being watched. What led to this moment and what would come after were not mine to know. I just couldn’t walk out until something changed. She calmed down after a few minutes and I walked out to join my family. An amusement park can be fun, but I imagine the child remembers the bathroom scene as much as the roller coasters.
A far more charged incident occurred while standing in line to enter the San Francisco Giants baseball park with my nephew, who was about 11 years old at the time. A man pulled his son, who looked to be about 7 years old, out of the line and started smacking him. The violence shocked me, as I had been raised with or around parents who did not hit their children. All my father had to do was touch his belt and we froze, the threat sufficient for us to behave. I instinctively yelled at this father: “If he was an adult we would be calling the police!” before I was filled with the terror of consequences, knowing this man was clearly capable of harm. He stopped and yelled: “Stay out of this lady!” Grabbing his child, he got back in line.
No one said a word to me or him, we all stood still like the bronze statue of Willie Mays near us, hoping the line would hurry up and move. Hoping the Giants would win and help us forget what happened outside, and forget far more brutal attacks on children across the globe. As we all walked up the large ramps full of fans chattering like a flock of orange and black birds, I looked around, worried the man would track me down and threaten me. My nephew remained silent beside me and we sank with relief into our seats to watch the game, eat garlic fries, and enjoy a summer afternoon together.
Every time my daughter laughs and tells me: “Don’t hurt your child” I smile because it was not her reality and she did not worry about me using my physical and lawful power to scream at her or hit her. Part of my strategy was maintaining a community around my twins who were not chained to norms of controlled politeness. They experienced exuberant dancing parties, protest marches, and my push-back toward teachers and counselors who fostered inequity. They heard me on the phone insisting on my rights as a consumer and urging them to speak up when a product or food item did not meet expectations. It was practice in low impact situations so their confidence and courage could grow for the harder situations ahead. I did not want them to flinch in the face and sound of power — not mine, not authority figures, not the current US president, and not the demagogues of the world who will attempt to batter their truth.
My daughter has seen my anger over the years and is not afraid to tell me I am yelling when I am speaking at a volume that is within my normal range. I exude decisiveness and as an extrovert to her introvert my energy is hotter than I feel or intend it to be. I adapt my tone when necessary, but I still scream on roller coasters, croon “Take me out to the ballgame”, and bark “No justice, no peace!” at protests.
I also feel a deep sadness about the many children who have been and are hurt all the time – physically, sexually, and/or emotionally. I am angry at parents who cannot acknowledge their abuse of power. I also feel compassion towards parents who are abusive because their power was taken from them as children, or is taken now as wives or employees, as people of color, poor people, or immigrants.
While my twins did not always enjoy their martial arts programs, it was one of many acts to impart a legacy that protecting themselves from abusive power and standing up for one’s truth is every human beings’ right and inheritance. It was worth the grumbling I heard from the backseat of the car as I drove them to classes. The legacy is worth every rolling of the eyes now when I remind them professors have office hours for them and we pay insurance companies to deliver benefits promptly and respectfully. They and all of us living in the United States will have lots of opportunities to hone our skills in the coming four years. Bring it on.
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